Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek 2009, and I make no profit from this work.
"The basic problem presented to us in interacting with alien species - with species whose very fundamentals separate them from us - is that there is no frame of reference. Even the ancient pilgrims to the North Americas could believe that the natives were human, even if they did not always actually make those assumptions. But alien contact is just that - alien. How can we hope to understand peoples so foreign to ourselves?" - J. Buchanan, 'The Problems of the Federation', in Political Quarterly 210-12, 2209.
For all that Jim was descended from two Starfleet officers, he did not meet his first alien until he was eight years old. Iowa did not play host to many alien life forms - a mixture of hositility in the Mid-West towards aliens and their cultures, and the unforgiving landscape that most aliens found intolerable, made Iowa the last resort for passing alien tourists.
When he was eight years old, Winona took him and Sam to see the ship she was serving on. It had been grounded in one of the Nebraskan ports to get a refit done, and she had given in to Jim's pleas to see it. Later, Jim would learn why the Vulcan had been there, when they were not to be directly involved in Starfleet for years to come, but his eight-year-old self had no such concept of politics, and so only viewed the woman as alien.
As aliens went, even an eight-year-old human child recognised that she hadn't been all that different. But her face and her ears, and her posture, and her sheer uncomfortable attitude around Sam and Jim - that had screamed to Jim that she was different.
He hadn't liked it.
He had whined and shied away from her, resisted his mother's attempts to introduce him, shouted at his brother when Sam had tried to talk to the Vulcan woman. Eventually, the scary alien had walked away, and Jim had been scolded all the way home.
"I won't have that kind of xenophobic attitude from one of my sons!" Winona had exploded, the moment they'd left the spaceport, and an older Jim would reflect how it was one of the only memories he had of the vivacious, fiery woman he knew his mother should have been. When faced with the possibility of a xenophobic son, she had erupted like a volcano and hadn't subsided until she'd shaken into him that his attitude was wrong.
But at the time, Jim had thought his mother to be wrong. The Vulcan's face was funny, and her voice was funny, and there was no way she was speaking proper Standard. She wasn't human, and if she wasn't human then she was an animal, and they weren't as good as people. His logic had been firm, though it had cowered in the face of his mother's anger.
It had not, however, died completely.
"We can barely accept other humans. Our history is bloody and wrought with anger and war against our own kind. We still advocate animal testing, non-vegetarian diets, animal skins and furs, and feed their organs to our preferred dogs and cats. How can we hope to extend compassion and understanding to alien species when we have none for our own?" - Reverend Keith Ryan, Church of the New Saints of Ohio, c. 2229.
Frank was the first to truly batter Jim's mild xenophobia, even if he didn't mean to.
It was not that Frank encouraged Jim to embrace alien culture, language or society. Frank did not even encourage acceptance of other people, never mind alien people.
No, it was that Frank was xenophobic.
Jim never saw Frank confront an actual alien - he was never sure if Frank had even met an alien - but his attitude was clear. The channels would be changed if aliens appeared on the television, and articles in the papers about Starfleet or the Federation or new and old species alike would be loudly and vocally damned before Jim left for school.
And it began to niggle at Jim. Frank was a disgusting man, in Jim's eyes, and he strove to be everything that Frank wasn't, and drop his own traits that mirrored Frank's. So to hear Frank speak so scathingly of aliens was the key that began to shift Jim's own attitude.
But it was still a minor seed - with no aliens in Iowa, why would Jim truly change, or even recognise that he was doing so?
"Aliens are a problem because aliens prove that we are wrong. We are not alone or special in this universe, we are not blessed by a God, we are not the superior species. I challenge any human who believes he is superior to challenge an alien with that very trait. Would a strong man challenge a Klingon to a fight? Would a clever man challenge a Vulcan to chess? Would an angry man, drunk or not, fight with a Romulan? Would a businessman barter with a Ferengi? I think not. We were wrong about ourselves and our place in the universe - and the one thing that humans across the world do not like is to be proved wrong." - Richard DeManuse, in 'The Beginnings of the Federation' (2632), p213.
When Jim went to the Academy, he abruptly learned that some aliens are positively awesome.
When you are a young, sexually active human male, any alien that enjoys large amounts of commitment-free sex is to you what religious miracles where to medieval Christians. That is to say: a-fucking-mazing.
Orions are just one of those species.
There were eight Orions in the Academy in the same years that Jim attended, three of whom were female. All three of whom were quite happy to 'discover' human sexual practices with Jim in a 'cross-cultural learning experience'.
Orions blew Jim's perceptions of aliens out of the water. They were no longer the stern Vulcan woman from his childhood, or the invisible enemy of Frank, but real. They were here, they were real, and they were relatable. They did a lot of the things that Jim did, they had a lot of the same things that Jim (or human women) did, and they liked to talk about the same things.
Even if they were green.
There were a fair few aliens at the Academy, but not in groups like the Orions. There was a Vulcan somewhere, but Jim didn't meet him for several more years. The Romulans and the Klingons were both disparaging of the idea of committing to Starfleet at all, and the two or three Andorian students kept themselves to themselves. So Orions were Jim's primary learning experience of aliens - real, live aliens.
And maybe he didn't understand them, and maybe green skin was kind of weird when you thought about it, but people that cool couldn't just be downright wrong.
"Extraxenophobia is the same type of problem as racism and homophobia and sexism were in human past. It starts off as a real problem. But then eventually people get pissed and it makes a comeback, because of one thing. You must never assume that extraxenophobia is a human trait. Just like racism was not exclusively white, and sexism was not exclusively male, extraxenophobia is not exclusively human. Sects of the human population hate off-worlders and think them inferior. And they are wrong. But sects of the Vulcan, Romulan, Tellarite, Andorian, Klingon, Ferengi, Betazoid, whatever populations think that of humans. And they are also wrong." - Mary Lewis, Chairperson of 'United Against Bigotry', 2400.
Jim - and everyone in his generation - grew up in a world that knew about aliens. Which meant that while extraxenophobia was generally disapproved of, it was a cultural thing to make alien jokes anyway. And Jim had never been uncomfortable with that.
Because the problem was that you were getting two sets of ideas from Starfleet.
1) Do not judge a person based on his or her gender, sexuality, race, disability, ethnic origin, or species.
2) Make allowances for differing capabilities in different species.
Telling a bunch of twenty-year-olds - genius ones, but still twenty-year-olds - to treat people differently and the same at the same time doesn't always go down well. And so while outright extraxenophobia was almost unheard of in Starfleet, alien jokes happened all the same.
They were the same as humans had told about each other since the dawn of time. 'A Romulan, a Vulcan and a Klingon walk into a bar...' was a common phrase, and nobody minded. Jim went along with it - he and Bones were the bar-propping riots of mild extraxenophobia.
And hey, they told themselves. It wasn't extraxenophobia. Nobody minded.
And then, suddenly, Jim minded.
"Without a common frame of reference, we cannot hope to ever truly understand what it is to be alien - to be Romulan, or Klingon, or whatever. We deplore the Klingon way of life, but they thrive in it. The Vulcans find us unimaginably illogical, but we thrive within it. We cannot possibly hope to understand - yet the powers that be say that we must try. If we cannot hope to succeed, how do they think they will persuade us all to try?" - Clara DiMaggio, spokesperson for 'Earth First', 2230.
The realisation came quite quickly, some four months into the first five-year mission, that Jim suddenly found the jokes he had told and revelled in at the Academy quite...distasteful. And it came, like most epiphanies, out of the blue.
"I just finished up the crew physicals," McCoy had said, sliding into the seat opposite Jim in the mess. "Everyone's fine. At least, as far as I can tell. Don't know what's up or down with that pointy-eared hobgoblin of a First Officer of yours..."
"Don't," Jim snapped, and they both stiffened in surprise.
And where had it come from? That twinge of...anger at McCoy's words? That desire to make him stop saying them, even though Spock was on the bridge, on duty, and even with Vulcan hearing, couldn't possibly have heard them? Where had that come from? And, more importantly, when had it arrived?
"Don't?" McCoy echoed in surprise.
"Don't...say things like that. They're...offensive."
McCoy raised an eyebrow - like a Vulcan - and demanded, "To who? In case you haven't noticed, Jim, the green-blo-"
"I said don't!"
McCoy stopped, and frowned at Jim. Jim felt uncomfortable under the stare, and could feel his face heating up. "What's this about, Jim? Since when have you been in the habit of actually reading those 'workplace inclusion ethos' pamphlets?"
"I'm not," Jim replied shortly. "It just...doesn't seem right that you keep insulting him based on..."
"Based on a physical appearance?"
Jim shrugged. "Based on him being alien."
"Come off it, Jim," McCoy drawled. "Everyone knows I don't mean it. It's just another way of sniping at someone. I call Chekov the kid, doesn't mean I hate kids."
"Look," McCoy said firmly. "You ever think I'm really going overboard with it, you call me on the carpet. If it ever actually upsets your First Officer, then I'll cut it out. Until then, it's just some harmless name-calling. You don't think he comes back at me sometimes?"
McCoy snorted. "Hell, Jim. The way he says 'doctor', he might as well be cussing me out good and proper."
"In my experience, about a quarter of humans don't like aliens. About half are completely ambivalent towards them, and pick and choose which species they do and don't like. Those are the sensible half. Because we won't, and never will, like all the alien races that we come across. But another quarter of the human race are people like me: we find the alien to be the unusual, the strange, the exotic, the intriguing. They are creatures to be watched and studied and learned and loved. They appeal to the human curiosity, and when you have a species that is equally curious...then you have harmony. Then you have peace, and alliance, and knowledge blossoming from every corner of both worlds. And that cannot be a bad thing." - Cassandra Grayson, speaking of the first Human-Vulcan marriage, 2230.
Spock was something to be learned.
Jim had always been a people person - good at reading them, good at pleasing them, good at pissing them off. Whatever reaction he wanted, he could get it. But Vulcans were a whole new ball game.
Spock's reaction to anything was inhuman, which was hard enough, and then suppressed, which was worse. Jim could not hope to read him in the slightest, and it took over a year before Jim even became aware that his First Officer even had a sense of humour. Whatever humanity his heritage had given him, it had not made him easier to read.
Jim was never one to back down from a challenge, and he spent the first two years in space learning to read his First Officer until he could have written books on how to socialise and converse with Vulcans, despite not actually speaking a word of the Vulcan language. He came to learn when to draw close, when to back off, and where the boundaries of professional and personal lay in the Vulcan world.
The more he didn't know, the more he became determined to learn, and even Uhura came to view his efforts at 'Learning Spock' as amusing and somewhat praiseworthy. Lord knew what Spock thought of the whole thing, but Jim presumed he wasn't too put out by it, as he never tried strangling Jim again.
So when Jim first noticed, several years after their meeting, that Spock was more comfortable around aliens that he was around his own people, the Captain was sure that he had it wrong.
But he had not.
"In every species, there are the misfits. Those who do not like their fellow people, and wish to be somewhere else. With alien alliances across the universe, we can hope to achieve this. We can find our homes, wherever they may be, and the people who are our families, be they equipped with red, blue, green, purple, black or white blood. For the first time, we can go home." - Anonymous.
"I will always be alien," Spock told him once. "To my own people and to humans, I am alien. I am never anything else."
"No," Jim said, his voice almost a murmur in the darkness. "You might be alien, but you're home now. You're home here. We're your family - so you can't be alien to us."